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How a Boy Named Horst Became an Internet Sensation Known As Riff Raff

How a quiet kid from Copperfield morphed into today's most enigmatic rapper.

How a Boy Named Horst Became an Internet Sensation Known As Riff Raff
Amanda Lopez

Becoming Riff Raff

As a prepubescent boy in the early '90s, Horst Simco was enamored of Vanilla Ice. Like millions of other kids, Horst fell for the white rapper's slick dance moves and outrageous style — Evel Knievel-style jumpsuits, blow-dried, gravity-defying hair, slits cut into his eyebrows.

But before long Ice fell out of favor, amid questions of his authenticity. Though the man born Robert Van Winkle claimed to be a poor kid who'd attended high school in Miami, he'd actually grown up in a middle-class Dallas suburb — not exactly the streetwise image he was trying to convey.

Young Horst, though, maintained affection for his hero long after it ceased being cool. But when it came to charm and charisma, he was no Vanilla Ice. Family members recall a well-­behaved, quiet kid who never got in trouble. And while the rap scene in Houston was bubbling up, Horst might as well have been a million miles from it: The family's ranch house was on a quiet cul-de-sac in the northwest suburbs about 25 miles outside downtown, with a towering ash tree out front and a big backyard. There wasn't much to do in the area; not long before Ronald and Anita Simco bought there in 1984, the area was mostly rice farms.

At the Brisk Bodega showcase in August featuring Riff Raff and Bun B, Vice magazine was on hand to interview the two rappers...
Photos by Marco Torres
At the Brisk Bodega showcase in August featuring Riff Raff and Bun B, Vice magazine was on hand to interview the two rappers...
...before they took the stage at the Kingspoint Mullet Graffiti Warehouse in South Houston.
Photos by Marco Torres
...before they took the stage at the Kingspoint Mullet Graffiti Warehouse in South Houston.

Horst wasn't much into making music — no one in the family really took to any musical instruments, his brother says — but he was obsessed with basketball, playing frequently with a group that included his next-door neighbor, Juan Sosa.

"He was nothing like he is today," says Sosa, now 34. He describes Horst as a "bookworm" and a "shy, clean-cut kid" who wore collared shirts and blue jeans.

The Simcos moved away and the boys fell out of touch. But years later, in 2009, Sosa was shocked to see his former basketball buddy on MTV reality show From G's to Gents. His look and manner couldn't have been more different.

In the ensuing decade, Horst Simco had transformed into Riff Raff: a controversial, wild-eyed rapper dripping in diamonds, his body coated with outrageous tattoos. With cornrows, a whimsical zigzag beard and notched eyebrows just like Vanilla Ice, he'd become an Internet sensation — a virtual caricature of a hip-hop star, a lightning rod called both brilliant and a brain-dead minstrel act.
_____________________

Riff Raff is an endlessly quotable, sui generis pop-culture figure, a bona fide celebrity who pals around with Drake and Justin Bieber. His YouTube videos get millions of views.

There's something polarizing about him: Depending upon your point of view, Riff Raff seems either to embody the worst racial stereotypes or to transcend them. He peppers his rhymes about money, cars and women with surrealist humor that's crass but often hilarious — on his recent single "Dolce & Gabbana" he rhymes, "Your bitch playing strip poker / I'm outside eatin' fried okra / (With who?) With Oprah!" But despite some extremely catchy songs, he's had no chart success to speak of, and many folks paying attention to him don't necessarily find his music compelling. They just want to know if he's serious.

Today, Riff Raff sits sulking on a couch in the lobby of the Los Angeles headquarters of his record label, Mad Decent. Most artists in his situation would be waxing about their forthcoming album, particularly when it's got as much buzz as Riff Raff's Neon Icon. Although it doesn't yet have a firm release date, it's expected to feature a bevy of hot rappers and producers, including Wiz Khalifa, Skrillex and DJ Mustard. After countless mixtapes, this is Riff Raff's first official release — and his introduction to a wider audience.

Instead, he's brooding. Though his publicist was told otherwise, he thought this meeting would be for a cover shoot, and he'd clearly labored over his look: His beard is just right, and his braids done up with white and black beads. His orange T-shirt with cutoff sleeves matches his multicolored board shorts and his Nikes. He's eating from a bag of candy oranges, the two-for-a-dollar kind, and drinking a Snapple; even his snacks match his outfit.

Another problem: This interview isn't being videotaped. "Y'all should've added a video or some shit," he says. Indeed, video is where Riff Raff's charisma shines through. He's pure id, full of restless energy, and his non sequiturs are perhaps best understood via six-second looping clips on Vine.

So right now he's miserable. "I feel like I'm in a police station interrogation or something," he says, sounding downright depressed.

Even worse is when he's asked specific questions about his past. It's safe to say there's nothing Riff Raff would rather talk about less.

What's strange is that, for a guy as famous as he is, almost no one knows the most basic information about him. This is largely because he's been dispensing evasive answers since he began giving interviews. "My mom was a pilot, and my dad wrestled polar bears," he answers when asked what his parents did for a living. Other times he stretches the truth and lies with more conviction.

No one really questions what he says, and as a result countless outlets have published biographical information about him that is false. Almost nobody can agree on the most basic facts about him, starting with his real name and his age.

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7 comments
RiffRaffFan
RiffRaffFan

You don't have to believe me, but this is true. After the ninth grade riff raff moved  to a small mostly farming town called meadowlands in Minnesota. Very close to my hometown toivola. He lived above the grocery store in a small apartment where one of my friends just so happens to live now. He played on the toivola-meadowlands highschool basketball team and was quote from one of the locals, "a scatter-brain, but a good ballplayer." My sources are one of my good friends brothers who actually went to school with him and my uncle's sister who did so as well. His haircuts ranged from a bowl-cut, to a buzz cut, and bald. He was known for always having a basketball with him in the halls and in class and would shoot for hours in the gym whenever given the chance. Hes in the 1999 toivola-meadowlands yearbook as a junior named horst simco. Looking similar to how he does today with a broad face minus the zig zag beard and braids. It was crazy for me to find this out but I just literally put together all the pieces. Nowadays the only business in meadowlands is a bar, the school is closed, and that old grocery store is all living quarters. But, no disrespect to Riff Raff and his hustle, hes worked hard for what he has now, and he really hasn't lyed about his past. He just doesn't elaborate on it. but I thought this would be worth someones time to read. Honestly how could I make this stuff up.

bjthreet1
bjthreet1

The criticism of Riff-Raff is a blatant double standard!  What he is doing is absolutely NO DIFFERENT than what, I would estimate, 75% of black Americans do every day in the business and work world.  In order for most black Americans to be accepted in today's business and work culture, they must dress the way White society have traditionally dressed and go by the rules that have been set up by white society, regardless of how they were raised and where they came from.  If they were raised in the ghetto or low-income neighborhoods and spoke in Ebonics their entire life, while wearing sagging clothes, pimped-out bling and said "nigga" and "knoam-sayin" with every other phrase, they had to conform to what was expected of them to "fit in."  They had to leave their roots and culture behind, and in the workplace, assimilate to what is expected of them.  They had to dress in suits and ties, and speak in proper English and grammar, and behave according to the rules set forth by said white society. In essence, they too, had to "fake it until they make it."  

Now, flip the script and ask yourselves this:  Would anyone pay one second of attention to a white rapper who walked around in button-down collars or Polo shirts tucked inside their Levi jeans, sportin' leather loafers, while spittin' out lyrics in proper English and grammatical syntax??  Ya'll already know the answer to that.  Should we tell blacks who attempt to assimilate and who want to succeed in the workplace that they are just fake-ass, white-wannabe Nigg**s??  That would ridiculous and cause mass outrage, right?  Of course it would.  So where is the outrage when Horst Simco is attacked for trying to assimilate to what is expected of him to fit in with Hip Hop culture and the Rap industry by transforming himself into Riff Raff?  Everyone preaches that we want everyone to be "as one," to have a melting pot of cultures and let everyone have a chance to be whatever their dreams tell them to be...but I guess when it comes to a White kid who dares to dream to be a rapper in the Hip Hop/Rap world, that talk is comin' "out the side of yo neck!"  Think about it!  Peace!

pete229
pete229

Wow, what a waste of print. That's 10 minutes of my life I will never get back, thanks TMZ...err…. I mean Houston” rag mag" Press

LaZeR_RiFF
LaZeR_RiFF

He is not black and will always be white no matter where he comes from or how he acts. He gets a lot of hate, it will just make him more real.

DeathBreath
DeathBreath

God, I am laughing.  I suppose he considers himself to be really "gangsta."  I believe he is a shapeshifter of Vanilla Ice.  LOL. 

DannyTanner
DannyTanner

A lot of people take themselves or a music genre way too seriously. His outlandish style isn't an insult to "hiphop" or a reflection of his audience's intelligence... RiFF represents everyone's subconcious desire to withdraw from society's circular expectations and still find happiness or success. He actually did it. As if he was one of them real boys

RiffRaffFan
RiffRaffFan

@bjthreet1 You don't have to believe me, but this is true. After the ninth grade riff raff moved  to a small mostly farming town called meadowlands in Minnesota. Very close to my hometown toivola. He lived above the grocery store in a small apartment where one of my friends just so happens to live now. He played on the toivola-meadowlands highschool basketball team and was quote from one of the locals, "a scatter-brain, but a good ballplayer." My sources are one of my good friends brothers who actually went to school with him and my uncle's sister who did so as well. His haircuts ranged from a bowl-cut, to a buzz cut, and bald. He was known for always having a basketball with him in the halls and in class and would shoot for hours in the gym whenever given the chance. Hes in the 1999 toivola-meadowlands yearbook as a junior named horst simco. Looking similar to how he does today with a broad face minus the zig zag beard and braids. It was crazy for me to find this out but I just literally put together all the pieces. Nowadays the only business in meadowlands is a bar, the school is closed, and that old grocery store is all living quarters. But, no disrespect to Riff Raff and his hustle, hes worked hard for what he has now, and he really hasn't lyed about his past. He just doesn't elaborate on it. but I thought this would be worth someones time to read. Honestly how could I make this stuff up.

 
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